Sacred Chaos, Spiritual Disciplines for the Life You Have, by Tricia McCary Rhodes, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2008, pp. 183, paper $10.00

Sacred Chaos is published by the formatio arm of InterVarsity Press which is dedicated to producing books promoting spiritual formation and mysticism.  Rhodes’s book would be typical of formatio publications, many of which I have already reviewed.  She mostly recommends the same ancient Roman Catholic practices that other authors in the series recommend: The Jesus Prayer (pp. 115-117), spiritual breathing (p. 64), lectio divina (pp. 68-71), use of icons, incense, candles, prayer beads, etc. (p. 75), finding your divine center (p. 76), consultations (pp. 93-98), the prayer of examen (pp. 100-104, 164), breath prayer (p. 106) and fasting (p. 130).  The usual sources are quoted and recommended: Theophan the Recluse (p. 9), Anne Rice (pp. 37-38), Mother Teresa (pp. 63, 126-127), Thomas Kelly (p. 76), Catherine of Siena (p. 77), Bernard of Clairvaux (p. 77), Madame Guyon (pp. 79-81), Francois Fénelon (p. 81), Ignatius of Loyola (pp. 100, 102), Francis de Sales (p. 109), Tony Jones (p. 110), Richard Foster (p. 110), Henri Nouwen (p. 137), St. Francis of Assisi (p. 140), and Teresa of Ávila      (p. 145).

If you have read other formatio authors or Richard Foster or Dallas Willard, you will find little new in Sacred Chaos.  The unique wrinkle is that Rhodes is writing for those who are living hectic, busy, even chaotic lives who, in their spare moments, want to experience the mystical life Foster and others champion.  There was one experience mentioned that I had never come across until now—“holy drowsiness” (p. 90).  This is when you fall asleep while praying.  With this I can identify, but I had always thought falling asleep during prayer a negative—like when Jesus reprimanded the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane.  I am happy to know that giving the right spin falling asleep in prayer is actually a good thing (tongue fully planted in cheek).

There are two major items to recognize, and guard against, in works such as Sacred Chaos.   First, the practices recommended to enhance your spiritual life are not found in Scripture.  They are drawn almost entirely from the traditions, practices and ideas stemming from Roman Catholic, Orthodox and, occasionally, Quaker mystics from the past.  Jesus warned clearly against adopting men’s traditions which ultimately trump God’s Word (Matt 15).  Second, having turned from the Scriptures as God’s complete and perfect revelation, the mystical movement seeks revelation directly from the Lord through an inner voice (pp. 25026, 44-46, 33, 62-63, 76, 100, 107, 111-112, 134, 155, 164, 172, 175).  Rhodes writes:

Our part is to tune our ears so that we are sensitive to the nuances of God’s voice.  This a spiritual discipline that takes time and practice to develop, but the more we open up to the wonder that God’s eye is upon us, the more we’ll begin to recognize his gentle impressions telling us to stop and listen to what he has to say…we become more comfortable with hearing him, enabling us to more readily act in faith on the things we feel he has spoken (p. 45).

Rhodes apparently sees these “revelations” as on par with Scripture for she encourages her readers to “record any words [you hear] the Lord speaking, keeping a detailed account of the revelation He [gives you] from his Word” (p. 155, see also p. 112).

What Sacred Chaos attempts to do is circumvent the place of Scripture in our lives and replace it with the corrupt imagining of mystical practices.  This is a bad trade. 

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